OPINION: Kudos for Squadron for curbing Heights’ ‘mad turners’
When I worked at the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle building on Henry Street near Middagh Street, I often found myself waiting an interminably long time at the traffic light to cross Hicks Street. Almost as soon as the light turned green, an almost never-ending stream of cars turning at fairly high speeds off the BQE heading south began. Often, the cars wouldn’t stop until the “walk” period was almost over. Privately, I nicknamed these high-speed turning cars the “mad turners.”
I have nothing against cars that need to turn — I drive myself. But the green lights were designed first for pedestrians, and only secondly for cars waiting to make a turn. The problem exists at intersections like this one, I believe, partially because the streets of Brooklyn Heights are so narrow and weren’t built to accommodate a steady stream of fast-moving automobiles.
That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read, in the pages of this newspaper, that at the request of State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Downtown Brooklyn/Downtown Manhattan), a Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) is being installed further down in the Heights, at the intersection of Hicks Street and Atlantic Avenue.
Squadron, the Eagle article continues, also successfully requested another LPI at the intersection of Congress, Bergen and Court streets in Cobble Hill. This is a tricky intersection because Bergen and Congress streets feed into Court Street from opposite directions. More LPIs are needed, but these are a good start.
How exactly does an LPI work? According to the website of the city Department of Transportation (DOT), which actually programs the signals, an LPI is a traffic signal that shows a “walk” sign for pedestrians before showing a green light to car traffic. “The goal of these signals,” according to DOT, “is to improve street safety by giving pedestrians a chance to begin crossing the street before cars make turns across the crosswalk.”
Many people need more time to get across the street than the average person. Among them are seniors who walk slowly, people who use a cane or a walker, parents who have to keep an eye on young children, groups of people (such as tour groups) and others. LPIs would make their life so much easier.
Large streets in other parts of Brooklyn, such as Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway, have traffic islands where people can rest in case the light turns red in the middle of their trip, but traffic islands aren’t practical for the narrow streets of Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.
And what of the drivers who want to make turns? According to the National Organization of City Transportation Officials’ (NATCO’s) online “Urban Street Design Guide,” “A Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) typically gives pedestrians a 3-7 second head start when entering an intersection with a corresponding green signal in the same direction of travel.” That’s right—only 3 to 7 seconds. It’s highly unlikely that such a small amount of time spent waiting for pedestrians to cross the street could seriously affect one’s life, except in a life-or-death emergency. And in that case, you’re dealing with ambulances, which don’t have to obey traffic lights anyway.
So here’s to Squadron and the traffic planners who have installed the LPIs. One should be able to walk at a comfortable pace through Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill without constantly being afraid that cars turning at high speeds will suddenly appear.
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Raanan Geberer, a freelance writer, recently retired as Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He had been Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Bulletin until 1996, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was revived and merged with the Bulletin.
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